Monday, February 09, 2015

What's a "Gamer"?

Global Thermonuclear Wa... I mean, Pong! Pong is cool.
A lot of us remember the scene (if you've never watched WarGames, please go watch it, it's dated, it's totally '80s, and also a great flick); Matthew Broderick's character (David) sits in front of his IMSAI 8080 microcomputer. That 2 MHz Intel 8080 processor was running all night and day making phone calls all over Sunnyvale, California to find a video game company that would be releasing some pretty sweet games. He thinks he finds it and begins to interact with a computer that asks him a very simple but (as we begin to learn) important question, "Shall We Play A Game"?

See, David is a gamer. When we first see David, he's standing in front of an arcade cabinet playing Galaga. He was so into video games that he tried to break into a game company just so he can have early access to a game. Hell, he saves the world from destruction (SPOILERS) by playing a video game. David was a gamer, through and through. The problem is, that Ally Sheedy's character (Jennifer) who plays Global Thermonuclear War with David and who helps David to finally save the world would not be considered a gamer at all. The term gamer, mainly referred to men.

The dictionary defines "gamer" as a person who plays games, especially computer or video games.

The dictionary has also changed the meaning of "literally" to mean the exact opposite of what the word originally entailed so the dictionary can go fornicate itself.

However, as society changes the meaning of certain words over time, the term "gamer" has never been able to fully come out of its negative connotation. The term is still restrictive depending on who is defining it.

So what is a gamer? Well, let's look at who's answering that question.

If you asked the average person who doesn't really play video games, "What's a gamer?" This is what usually comes to mind. A male who has no real life outside of the virtual world. He is constantly playing video games, cut off from the outside world. The older "hardcore gamers" will look down on you for thinking Call of Duty is hard when you have never played Mega Man 2. The younger hardcore gamer would mock you for not being able to hang in Grand Theft Auto V and have already beaten the game and traded it in a day later.

In truth, these players do exist. But it is a stereotype. If you asked these hardcore gamers what a gamer is, their response would be very different. To them, a gamer is a video game enthusiast, they have no loyalty to consoles, they love good games. They've been playing them all their lives. They've beaten Legend of Zelda on multiple occasions and have the maze section memorized. They could tell you the order of villains you should beat in MegaMan. They're the ones who made Street Fighter IV happen. They're the ones who stood together and shamed Xbox into changing their policies regarding game swapping. Yes, the hardcore gamer is a fervent player, passionate about what "he" loves. And therein lies the problem, because if you're not a hardcore gamer, or claim to be one, it becomes a pissing contest. And if you're a girl that claims to be a gamer. Well, the hardcore gamer only sees you in one way.

God forbid you're a woman into gaming. The first four tropes in the picture above are dead-on accurate. The hardcore gamer sees a woman as they see a gold ring, or a princess in a castle, or as the polygon-ed ass that they keep the camera on for far too long; women are objects.

Of course I speak in generalities, but the truth is women who love playing video games are treated as second class citizens. They're ridiculed or sexualized in an online match, if they choose to cosplay or play something other than an MMORPG (massive mutiplayer online role playing game) they get labeled with being a "faux gamer".

There's the story of Gary Gygax when he came out with Dungeons & Dragons back in the '70s. When asked about the lack of women in his game, his answer? He would add more women if women started buying his games.

So, ask a woman who's into gaming what she thinks a gamer is, well, you obviously get a different opinion. One more accurate, one that defines them as a gamer.

With so many varying definitions of "gamer" and the majority coming with some kind of stigma, we have to ask ourselves if it's time to either unify or just get rid of the word that is used to define anyone who plays a game. The casual gamer, the pro gamer, the retrogamer, the gaymer (it is what you think it is), I ask myself, what's a gamer to me?

To me, my grandmother shaking the joystick while playing PacMan on my Atari 2600 and who nows plays Angry Birds on her iPad, that's a gamer. My wife who will devour a Lego game in a day, but who can't stand first person shooters, that's a gamer. My nephews who would play Spider-Man on the Xbox 360 just to get him to the highest building and then jump off, that's a gamer.

I call myself a gamer, but I call anyone who enjoys just playing any game a gamer. If you want to faction that off that into different definitions, I think you've stopped having fun, and you are way more concerned about appearances than playing games.

I call that vanity.